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Editor's Note: American Hustle

We celebrate what's awesome about American food and drink right now
Photo: Tasting Table
Hot Dogs and Apple Pie

This July, we're pledging allegiance to the food that makes this country great—specifically, the exciting things happening in our nation's culinary scene right now. Join us as we explore America!

One glance at the evening news (or, gasp, an honest-to-goodness newspaper), and it’s easy to get down on the state of the world today.

Well, guess what. They can turn our election into the nastiest three-ring circus on earth (take that, Barnum & Bailey). And they can try to tell us who to love. But they can’t take away the fact that American food is better than ever, which we’ll be celebrating this month long after the Fourth of July sparklers die down. So let’s focus on that little slice of positivity—about as an American thing to do as eating apple pie.

I decided to poll Tasting Table’s editors on what they’re most jazzed on in the American culinary scene rightthisveryminute. I’ll take my moment to hail amber waves of grain and the return of proper, well-made bread to the culinary scene. It speaks to both exploration and a return to craftsmanship—essential hallmarks of our country’s constantly evolving food scene. And what could be more sustaining, more basic (in the best, most satisfying way, not in the #basic way) than bread? From thick slabs of toast piled high with sweet and savory toppings to small producers experimenting with alternative grains, bread is back, baby. Just ask Oprah.

Here’s what the rest of the team would like to salute:

Devra Ferst, Senior Editor: While New York struggles to remain at the cutting culinary edge, cities around the country like Houston, Detroit, Washington, D.C. and my hometown of Philadelphia finally seem to be getting their due. Chefs, like Travis Milton who grew up in rural Virginia and left to cook in famed kitchens, are returning home. And chefs who are frustrated with the high rents of cities like NYC are moving to smaller, more moderately priced towns and opening some of the most interesting restaurants we’ve seen in a long time.

Alison Spiegel, Senior Writer: I'm welcoming back FUN in dining—with open arms and a can of rosé in hand. Sure, some folks still take themselves too seriously, but I'm thankful for the chefs letting their hair down. It's not just that casual settings have replaced white tablecloths. It's all the neon and street art on the walls, and the puns on the menus. One of Brooklyn's hottest pizza places plays 90s hits that inspire impromptu dance parties, and I’m ready to get down.

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Joshua David Stein, Editor-at-Large: Chefs glorifying the American bounty is not a new thing, though it is a great thing. What is relatively new, however, is how many chefs are taking active roles in spreading America's bounty more equitably. They’re getting their hands dirty. Whether it’s Tom Colicchio taking on more of a policy role in Food Policy Action; or Daniel Giusti, the former chef of Noma, focusing his efforts on school lunches with Brigaid; or John Besh in New Orleans using his restaurant empire to sustain agri- and aquaculture in Louisiana, the mission of chefs seems to have moved beyond farm-to-table. It encompasses not just farms but farmers, not just products but producers. And even more, mindfulness is growing beyond the table itself. Now, the chef fights for fair wages for the back of house—whether or not no tipping will succeed, it's an important conversation to have. And let’s not forget school lunches that don’t just fill but nourish.

Jake Cohen, Food Editor: More and more we’re seeing the hottest new restaurants embrace the flavors of rural America. You can be a born and bred city boy like myself and still appreciate the food of Appalachia or the Pacific Northwest. Whether it’s experiencing Oregon huckleberries for the first time (like many of our editors did when I made them into a cobbler) or learning a technique such as making Cajun roux like they do in Louisiana, you’re still having a truly American culinary experience.

Abby Reisner, Assistant Editor: For me, it’ll always be about the ice cream. Handcrafted American brands are swooping in with their ultra-local ingredients and scrappy mentality, redefining the state of our frozen desserts and causing me to pledge allegiance to new favorites. Keep an eye on an ever-growing number of smaller niche brands across the country, like Smitten, Salt & Straw, Tin Pot and Jeni’s, to learn the real meaning behind “sweet land of liberty.”

Jane Frye, Managing Editor: Pork rolls, lobster rolls, Wattamelon rolls. Regional food is what truly defines all that’s great about American cuisine—especially when it comes to reinventing the classics, like they’re doing over at Carla Hall’s Southern Kitchen. Sure, home turf pride might divide us as we debate whether Shack Shake bests In-N-Out or vice versa, but it’s all in good fun and all in the name of good food.

Elyse Inamine, Editor: It’s the land of mash-up after mash-up (Korean tacos, Tex-Mex). America is great, because it’s untethered and evolving. Which bleeds red, white and blue: meat loaf, ketchup fried rice or Taco Bell? All of the above. And the States are still breeding ground for things yet untouched, like savory doughnuts, new-wave rum and, yes, more mash-ups (food x fashion, Popsicles and cocktails). God bless America.

LET’S DISCUSS:

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